Commentary

Thanksgiving week offers rivalry feast

Originally Published: November 24, 2009
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where a most costly internship is about finished at Notre Dame (1):

[+] EnlargeCharlie Weis
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCharlie Weis and the Irish have lost three straight.

And so in the humbling end it cannot be laid at the feet of the Scourge of Humanity, Tyrone Willingham (2). When Charlie Weis (3) was revealed as a subpar head coach in his third and fourth years, they tried to blame it all on the last guy -- the one the school canned in three seasons. In Year 5 the few remaining apologists got desperate, citing bad calls and injuries -- like those happen only to the Fighting Irish.

With all possible excuses eliminated for Mr. No Excuses, this is the bottom line: Even when blessed with an administrative double standard and a full roster of his own recruits, Charlie Weis couldn't make it work in South Bend.

Whoever the next guy is, just remember this: If you're struggling in Year 3, blame it on Charlie. But understand this much: The statute of scapegoating limitations has finally ended when it comes to the Scourge.

Nickname Change In Baton Rouge: "Mad Hatter" Is Out. "Spike" Miles Is In.

But as bad as Charlie Weis must feel today, at least he didn't commit the crimes against clock management that LSU's Les Miles (4) did Saturday in Oxford.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisLes Miles and LSU had some issues in Oxford.

The Dash has surmised what was going through the molten mind of Spike Miles at the end of the LSU-Mississippi game, with his Tigers trailing the Rebels 25-23 with 1 minute and 17 seconds left:

"OK, we'll try that onside kick thingie. Man, those were some terrible play calls by Gary Crowton (5) on the two-point conversion -- what was he thinking throwing two fade patterns? Especially the second one, from inside the 2?

"You'll get asked about it postgame, Les. You know how the press likes to doubt you about late-game decisions. But first, let's try this onside doohickey and see what happens."

LSU recovers the kick as Ole Miss' hands team goes matador, all but shouting "Ole!" while watching the ball and the Tigers go right past.

"Wow! We got the ball! That was cool! That means we're back on offense now, right? Yeah, there goes Jordan Jefferson (6) and the boys back out there. … And look at that, a completion to Brandon LaFell (7) all the way to the Ole Miss 32! We might win this thing! The Hat's gonna do it again!

"Slow down, focus. I wonder if we're in field goal range? I get too excited and can't do that math thing where you add 10 yards for the end zone and seven for the spot -- I'd count it out on my fingers, but the TV cameras might catch me. Need to appear commanding over here. And let's face it, I do look good in this hat.

"Oh no! A sack! Call timeout, Les!"

LSU calls timeout with 32 seconds left.

[+] EnlargeJordan Jefferson
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisA late sack of QB Jordan Jefferson hurt the Tigers.

"Why did Jordan take a sack there?!? Why didn't we tell him that the last thing he can do in this situation is take a sack that would knock us out of field goal range? In fact, why aren't we trying to run? Holy smokes, I think I'm going to faint.

"OK, Crowton's calling a screen pass. Is that a good call? I don't know -- I can't think! Too nervous!"

Screen pass loses 7 more yards. It's now fourth-and-26 from the Ole Miss 48 with 26 seconds left.

"OHMYGOSH, that was a disaster. We're dead. We. Are. So. Dead. Should've taken the Michigan job. … What? What are my assistants shouting in my headset? Call timeout? Should we? I mean, it's our last one, right? Should I flip a coin? Consult the Magic Eight Ball? Ooooh, I can't stand this pressure! … OK, I'm calling it!"

LSU calls timeout with nine seconds left, letting roughly 17 seconds waste away. It's now fourth-and-26 from the 48 with nine seconds left.

"All right, we'll throw the Hail Mary, I guess. I have no idea what's going on."

Jefferson's Hail Mary comes up short of the end zone but is caught by Terrance Tolliver (8) at the Ole Miss 6. There is time for one last play. "Panicpanicpanicpanicpanicpanicpanic. … Think, Les! Get a grip! What would a smart coach do right now? Think of Bo! What would Bo do? Can you remember? Wait -- there's no time!

"Where are my assistants on the headset? Hello? For all the money I'm paying you guys, can't someone get in my ear and HELP ME OUT HERE?!? I'M CHOKING ON LIVE TV!

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Don McPeak/US PresswireLes Miles and the Tigers walked out of Oxford with a loss to Ole Miss.

"FINE. I'll handle this myself. Spike it, Jordan! Spike the ball! See me running down the sideline making this spike gesture? Get it? Throw … the … ball … into … the … ground!

"Wait, there's only one second left? Change of plans! Field goal unit! Where the hell is the kicking team? Get on the field!

"Oh, never mind! There's no time for that now! The chain gang is rushing into place, the officials are going to wind the clock. What do I do? Trust your quarterback, Les. That's what you do. Besides, my jaw is locked in mute horror and I couldn't say anything right now if I tried.

"Jordan, it's all on you. You're 19 years old and doing this for room, board and tuition. I'm making $3.751 million a year. But you're on your own now, and if this goes badly I'm throwing you in front of the postgame media train without hesitation. Nobody ever said life is fair, son. Just channel Matt Flynn and do something to make me look brilliant."

Jefferson tries to spike the ball, but time expires.

"OK, great! Now … oh, wait. The clock shows all zeroes, is that for real? Guess there's no such thing as a half-second play, huh? And the Ole Miss players are all running around, so apparently we did lose. And the sheriffs have come to take me away. And here comes Tracy Wolfson to stick that microphone in my face. This has become a Southwest Airlines commercial and I need to get away. Can I tell her I need to watch the film first? Should I try the 'Have a great day' line? Is the Michigan job going to open?"

The Only Guy Who Can Make "Spike" Miles Look Good

That would be first-year Yale coach Tom Williams (9), who came up with the brilliant idea to call a fake punt on fourth-and-22 (yes, 22, not fourth-and-two) from the Bulldogs' own 26-yard line. With 2:25 remaining. While leading 10-7.

The fake came up short when John Powers (10) was tackled after 14 yards, having stopped for water and air on his sojourn toward the first-down marker. (Slight exaggeration, but still. Who fakes a punt when you need 22 yards? And you're winning?) Harvard took over and promptly scored the winning touchdown, leaving Yale to ponder what happens when smart people do stupid things.

Give Williams credit for this much: He owned up to the lousy call right after the game, unlike "Spike" Miles.

Rivalry Rebellion

Half of the BCS top 10 will play an ancient, bitter rival this week -- but few of them are expected to even be close. The Dash is hoping the underdogs rise up and at least give us some rivalry games worth watching. A quick look at the five games:

[+] EnlargeJerrod Johnson
Aaron M. Sprecher/Getty ImagesJerrod Johnson and the Aggies are looking for an upset win over Texas.

Texas at Texas A&M (11), Thursday, ESPN, 8 p.m. ET. Favorite: Texas by 22½ What's at stake: Longhorns have already clinched the Big 12 South but cannot slip if they want to play for the national title. Recent history: Aggies have been underdogs annually this decade but have scored significant upsets two of the past three years and have won eight of the past 13 meetings in College Station. Which is why no Texas fan can look at this game without a little trepidation. Ancient history: Horns lead the series 74-36-5. Dash prediction: Texas 42, Texas A&M 21.

Alabama at Auburn (12), Friday 2:30 p.m. ET. Favorite: Alabama by 12. What's at stake: Crimson Tide have won the SEC West but have their eyes on the BCS championship prize. Recent history: Last year the Tide emphatically broke a six-year losing streak to the Tigers with a 36-0 pulverizing -- the biggest Iron Bowl margin of victory since 1962. Ancient history: Only Tennessee, with 38 wins, has beaten Alabama more often than Auburn (33 wins). But the Tide still leads the all-time series by six victories. Dash prediction: Alabama 24-14.

Pittsburgh at West Virginia (13), Friday, ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET. Favorite: Pitt by 1. What's at stake: Panthers will play for the Big East title against Cincinnati Dec. 5, but don't expect them to overlook the Mountaineers. Recent history: Pitt has won the last two meetings as underdogs -- and the 2007 game goes down as one of the great upsets in Backyard Brawl history. The Panthers shocked the Mountaineers 13-9 to knock them out of the BCS championship game. Still, WVU has a 12-7 edge over the last 19 meetings. Ancient history: Pitt has beaten the Mountaineers 61 times, by far the most victories against any opponent. West Virginia has won 37 times. Dash prediction: West Virginia 31, Pitt 28.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Samuel Lewis/Icon SMIUrban Meyer and the Gators have beaten the Noles four straight times.

Florida State at Florida (14), Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET. Favorite: Florida by 23. What's at stake: Gators are on a collision course with Alabama in the SEC title game, but a loss here would derail their repeat national championship bid. Recent history: Urban Meyer has owned Bobby Bowden, beating him four straight by an average of 24 points. Ancient history: Gators have a 13-win edge in the all-time series, but it's even in Bowden's tenure. Dash prediction: Florida 37, Florida State 13.

Georgia at Georgia Tech (15), Saturday, ABC, 8 p.m. ET. Favorite: Tech by 7. What's at stake: Nothing too tangible beyond Tech's hopes of finishing in the top five for the first time since 1990. And bragging rights, plenty of those. Recent history: First time the Yellow Jackets have been favored in a good while. Last year, Paul Johnson quickly won hero status by orchestrating Tech's first victory in the series since 2000. Ancient history: Georgia leads 59-37-5, which includes six straight shutouts during 1897-1903. Dash prediction: Georgia Tech 38, Georgia 31.

Rivalry Undercard

Thirteen other feud games to keep an eye on this weekend:

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesMike Gundy and the Cowboys are looking for their first win over OU since 2002.

Oklahoma-Oklahoma State (16). The stakes have done a 180 from normal in the Bedlam game. Usually it's the Sooners trying to preserve BCS bowl hopes and the Cowboys hoping to make their season with an upset. Not this year. Oklahoma State has its eyes on a possible Fiesta Bowl bid, while Oklahoma is playing for pride and a winning record amid a lousy season. Even with the legitimate and oft-recited injury excuse, it's a horrible year when the Sooners go 6-5. Dash stat: Oklahoma is averaging 47.3 ppg in its wins and 12.4 ppg in its losses. Dash prediction: Oklahoma 21, Oklahoma State 20. Can't pick the Cowboys with QB Zac Robinson's status up in the air.

Virginia-Virginia Tech (17). The Cavaliers have lost nine of their last 10 against the Hokies, one of many significant reasons Virginia coach Al Groh must go -- and presumably will go. There is no temptation whatsoever to pick the upset here -- not with the nation's No. 118 offense going up against the nation's No. 13 defense. Dash stat: Virginia ranks 10th or lower in the ACC in 10 statistical categories. Dash prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Virginia 3.

Washington-Washington State (18). Last year's Crapple Cup has at least been dignified by a moderate upgrade from the Huskies -- last year at this time they were 0-11, this year they're 3-7, and have actually beaten three teams with winning records. Dash stat: Why are the Cougars the worst team in a big-six conference? Because they have yet to lead a single game for a single second in regulation. Their lone win was over SMU in overtime, and the Cougs needed a touchdown with 28 seconds left to force the OT. Dash prediction: Washington 38, Washington State 14.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Kevin Liles/US PresswireSteve Spurrier and the Gamecocks haven't smiled much against Clemson.

Clemson-South Carolina (19). Gamecocks fans were hoping Steve Spurrier could vault them into the upper echelon of the SEC, and that hasn't happened. But what might be worse is his 1-3 record against the archrival Tigers at a time when the Tigers have been underachieving. This year doesn't look like the time for a Carolina reversal -- though it will be the more rested and prepared team, coming off a bye week while Clemson was busy clinching a spot in the ACC title game. Dash stat: South Carolina hasn't scored more than 16 points since Oct. 10. Dash prediction: Clemson 17, South Carolina 14.

Mississippi-Mississippi State (20). Losing the Egg Bowl has been a fireable offense recently -- ask Ed Orgeron and Sylvester Croom -- but not this time around. Best individual matchup revolves around running backs Dexter McCluster of Ole Miss and Anthony Dixon of Mississippi State, the leading contenders for the Charlie Conerly trophy -- an annual award given to the best college football player in the state of Mississippi. Dash stat: Ole Miss coaches had quite the midseason revelation, discovering that McCluster was good. He had 54 touches from scrimmage in the first six games for 362 total yards and two touchdowns. In the five games since, he's had 111 touches for 1,013 yards and six TDs. Dash prediction: Ole Miss 29, Mississippi State 21.

North Carolina-NC State (21). Two teams headed in opposite directions. Tar Heels have won four straight against good competition; Wolfpack have lost six of seven. Dash stat: Turnovers matter, especially when these two play. NC State was a plus-six against Carolina last year in a 41-10 upset romp, but this year is minus-13 overall. The Heels, meanwhile, are plus-five. The past two years, they are plus-11 overall and have a 16-8 record; the previous six years they were a staggering minus-52 and had a 23-48 record. Dash prediction: North Carolina 27, North Carolina State 16.

Arizona-Arizona State (22). Which team can find its enthusiasm to play this game? Sun Devils have lost five straight in brutal Pac-10. Wildcats just lost an overtime crusher to Oregon that cost them any chance at their first-ever Rose Bowl. Dash stat: Arizona State won 62 games from 1982 to '90, a respectable seven per season -- but none of them against the rival Wildcats. Arizona was 8-0-1 against the Sun Devils, with five of the victories by a touchdown or less. Just mention the 1980s to ASU fans of a certain age and heartburn will set in. Dash prediction: Arizona State 24, Arizona 22. Upset special.

[+] EnlargeMark Mangino
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireMark Mangino and Kansas are staring at a six-game losing streak.

Missouri-Kansas (23). No team in America has more negative momentum than the Jayhawks, losers of six straight and embroiled in a very public, very bitter investigation of coach Mark Mangino's treatment of players. But Mangino is 4-3 against the hated neighbors to the east, and a victory would make Kansas bowl-eligible. Still, Missouri figures to be coming into this game in a much better space mentally. Dash stat: Winner of this game has scored at least 31 points in eight of the last nine years. Dash prediction: Missouri 42, Kansas 31.

Utah-Brigham Young (24). Holy War will decide which team is second-best in the Mountain West, far behind TCU and well ahead of fourth-place Air Force. Dash stat: 10 of the last 12 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less. Sagarin ratings say that should be the case this year as well: Utah is No. 27 nationally at 79.34, BYU is 28th at 79.30. Dash prediction: Utah 27, BYU 24.

UCLA-USC (25). Since when do the Bruins come into this game feeling better about themselves than the Trojans? Since the pre-Pete Carroll days, that's when. USC's seven-year reign atop the Pac-10 is officially over after last weekend, while the Bruins have won three straight to reach bowl eligibility. Dash stat: Removing horrific Washington State from the equation, UCLA hasn't scored more than 27 points in a league game since the middle of 2007 -- a streak of 19 games. Dash pick: USC 19, UCLA 14.

Tennessee-Kentucky (26). The Wildcats are one win away from earning coach Rich Brooks The Dash's SEC Coach of the Year honors. Their ability to turn an injury-riddled season of modest expectations into seven victories has been a testament to Brooks' resilient nature. They won last week in Athens for the first time since 1977 and now seek to beat Tennessee for the first time since 1984. Dash stat: The Vols have beaten the Cats in every conceivable fashion -- from ahead, from behind, in shootouts, in defensive struggles, in good weather and in bad. In the five-year stretch from 1996 to 2000, Tennessee scored at least 56 points in every meeting and won each game by at least 28 points. Dash prediction: Tennessee 28, Kentucky 26.

Rice-Houston (27). The battle of Houston might not mean much to you or to The Dash, but presumably it means something to the combatants and at least some portion of the city's residents. So pick it we must. Dash stat: Cougars are third nationally in scoring offense. Owls are next to last in scoring defense. That, kids, is what's known as a mismatch. Dash prediction: Houston 63, Rice 27.

Colorado State-Wyoming (28). Back in the day, this was one mean Rocky Mountain rivalry. The battle for the Bronze Boot still carries some cachet, especially with the Cowboys a win away from bowl eligibility and the Rams trying to stop a horrendous eight-game losing streak that bottomed out in a loss on Saturday to previously winless New Mexico. Dash stat: Wyoming has not scored more than 10 points in any of its losses and has not scored fewer than 29 points in any of its wins. Dash prediction: CSU 17, Wyoming 16. Rams coach Steve Fairchild bookends bad season with rivalry wins, having opened by beating Colorado.

Nobody Ever Said The Polls Make Sense

An alert Dash reader points out that in the current AP Top 25, USC (29) is No. 24. That's behind three teams the Trojans have beaten: No. 9 Ohio State, No. 16 Oregon State and No. 21 California. Meanwhile the Trojans are ahead of two of the three teams it has lost to in unranked Stanford and Washington. Voters have had a hard time getting a handle on USC all season, and there's your proof.

Temperature Gauge Update

In early October, The Dash took a look at a bunch of coaches under pressure to perform this season. Time now to update that.

High heat (30):

Bobby Bowden, Florida State. Then: 2-3. Now: 6-5. Many believe he'll be back for one more year, but there is a vocal contingent trying to force him out and get on with the Jimbo Fisher era.

J.D. Brookhart, Akron. Then: 1-3. Now: 2-9. Call the movers, J.D.

[+] EnlargeAl Groh
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireAl Groh and the Cavs will have a losing record for the third time in four years.

Al Groh, Virginia. Then: 1-3. Now: 3-8. Annual Grohtober job-saving drive puttered out, replaced by November malaise. A big surprise if he's not gone after Saturday.

Dan Hawkins, Colorado. Then: 1-3. Now: 3-8. He sounds like a goner as well, saying Monday that if he had the CU experience to do over again he would not have had his son, Cody, there to play quarterback for him. (Sports truism: If your son is not the very best player or very worst player on a team you coach, you're going to have problems.)

Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville. Then: 1-3. Now: 4-7. Kragthorpe is as good as gone, with his 4-7 Cardinals hosting Rutgers on Friday. His three-year record of 15-20 comes on the heels of a 41-9 run under Bobby Petrino that ended with an Orange Bowl victory.

Doug Martin, Kent State. Then: 2-3. Now: 5-6. Martin is still 21 games under .500 in his sixth season, which means it's touch and go.

Mike Sanford, UNLV. Then: 2-3. Now: 4-7. Already been fired after fifth straight losing season.

Tommy West, Memphis. Then: 1-4. Now: 2-9. The sun already has set on West, with LSU assistant Larry Porter widely rumored to be his replacement.

Ron Zook, Illinois. Then: 1-3. Now: 3-7. Athletic director Ron Guenther has said Zook will be back, for reasons that escape The Dash.

Medium Heat (31)

Ralph Friedgen, Maryland. Then: 2-3. Now: 2-9. A six-game losing streak isn't good for anyone's job security, though most people believe Friedgen will be able to survive if he makes staff changes.

[+] EnlargeMike Locksley
Aaron M. Sprecher/Getty ImagesMike Locksley and the Lobos haven't had much to smile about in 2009.

Mike Locksley, New Mexico. Then: 0-5. Now: 1-10. At least Locksley finally got a win last week. Nothing else has gone right on or off the field, but the Lobos would like to avoid canning their first-year coach.

George O'Leary, Central Florida. Then: 3-2. Now: 7-4. Hard to see the Knights' getting rid of a seven-win coach who once breathed life into the program.

Mike Price, UTEP. Then: 2-3. Now: 3-8. Athletic director Bob Stull says Price will be back. Stull knows what it's like to get the premature hook from a job, having it done to him at Missouri in the 1990s.

Howard Schnellenberger, Florida Atlantic. Then: 0-4. Now: 3-7. Tough to get rid of the guy who founded the program, but the Owls have performed below their perceived talent level this season after going 15-11 the previous two years.

Dabo Swinney, Clemson. Then: 2-3. Now: 8-3. Suffice to say, this is now a nonissue.

Low Heat (32)

Bill Lynch, Indiana. Then: 3-2. Now: 4-8. Athletic director Fred Glass has already made the right call and said Lynch will be back for his fourth season in 2010.

Stan Parrish, Ball State. Then: 0-5. Now: 1-10. It's been a disastrous drop from a 12-0 regular season in '08 to this, but Parrish should get a second season in Muncie.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMark Richt and Georgia finished 4-4 in the SEC.

Mark Richt, Georgia. Then: 3-2. Now: 6-5. Fan base is furious and there will be heavy pressure for major staff changes, but The Dash still would be shocked to see Richt get the ziggy, even in the hypercompetitive SEC.

Mike Sherman, Texas A&M. Then: 3-1. Now: 6-5. It would be a shock to see the Aggies get rid of Sherman after just two seasons. Gaining bowl eligibility helps, and beating Texas on Thursday would silence all debate.

Mark Snyder, Marshall. Then: 3-2. Now: 6-5. Snyder needed a bowl-eligible season to keep his job and got that last week.

Bob Toledo, Tulane. Then: 2-2. Now: 3-8. His 9-26 record is lousy, but this isn't an easy job. And the Tulane brass knows that. Should be OK.

Charlie Weis, Notre Dame. Then: 4-1. Now: 6-5. It's all over but the press conference after another massive late-season collapse.

Paul Wulff, Washington State. Then: 1-4. Now: 1-10. He's 3-21 and not close -- but he did take over a tough situation from Bill Doba.

No Heat for Now (33)

Steve Spurrier, South Carolina. Then: 4-1. Now: 6-5. Heat has increased since midseason with another late fade, but there doesn't seem to be any buzz about an imminent change.

Bill Stewart, West Virginia. Then: 3-1. Now: 7-3. Administration isn't going to fire a guy who is 17-7.

Dave Wannstedt, Pittsburgh. Then: 4-1. Now: 9-1. No heat has been transformed into much love for Wanny. And if Pitt wins the Big East, he'll own the town.

[+] EnlargeMiranda Kerr
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty ImagesDashette Miranda Kerr is keeping her eye on the coaching temperature gauge.

Abrupt Changes (34) At midseason, David Elson was winless but seemingly secure at Western Kentucky, given the long-term challenge of the leap to FBS status. Then the school fired him last week and replaced him with Stanford assistant and former quarterback hero Willie Taggart.

Rich Rodriguez was 4-1 in early October and seemingly in solid shape at Michigan. He'll be back for a third season, but the collapse to 5-7 and two-year record of 8-16 ensures that next year will be pressure-packed.

There is no heat on Dashette Miranda Kerr (35), though she generates plenty of it on her own.

Coach Who Earned His Comp Car This Week

Nevada's Chris Ault (36), whose team was 0-3 heading into October -- and a pretty bad 0-3 at that, outscored by 60 points. Since then the Wolfpack is 8-0, having scored 50 or more points five times. Nevada will pose a worthy test for unbeaten Boise State on Friday night on the blue turf.

Coach Who Should Ride The Bus To Work

Rutgers coach Greg Schiano (37). Your team did the impossible: It lost to Syracuse by 18 points. The Orange haven't beaten anybody by that many points in three years, and haven't won a Big East game by that many points in five. Bad, bad loss.

Putting Out An APB For …

… Former Holy Cross hero Gordie Lockbaum (38), the two-way stud who actually finished third in the 1987 Heisman Trophy voting after a publicity push from then-Sports Illustrated and current ESPN writer Rick Reilly. In a wide-open Heisman year like this, it seems like a good time to get back in touch with Lockbaum. Anyone with information on his whereabouts, please apprise The Dash.

Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Northwestern quarterback Steve Schnur (39), is alive and well and running the Chicago office of Duke Realty Corporation. The QB of the Wildcats' 1996 Rose Bowl team married his college sweetheart, has kids ages 7, 5 and 3 and was on hand to see Northwestern upset Wisconsin on Saturday in Evanston. The Dash thanks all spies who forwarded info on Schnur -- including Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.

Point After

The Dash had a bye week and did not sample the tastes of any college town, but it can heartily recommend Thanksgiving dinner as cooked by mother-in-law Trudy Miller (40), expert turkey chef. The Dash will save some white meat for you.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.